FASTLANES: Social media and Sendong. By BenCyrus G. Ellorin

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/31 March) —  Social media has been abuzz with every word and phraseology to criticize what many netizens consider as a small town tyrrant.

The barrage of social media campaign for transparent and accountable city governance became feverish when Sendong struck more than a hundred days ago.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been credited for the Arab Spring successes in the Middle East and North Africa. And it is understandable why many in Cagayan de Oro romanticized the Arab Spring to our small town struggles.

But, while true that social media played an important role in the Arab Spring, glorifying it for all the movement’s successes is unfair to the people who made it happen, especially those that offered their lives.

In a social environment where there is heavy media censorship, the posting in Facebook and Twitter of the photo of the young jobless Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi who burned himself in protest on Dec. 17, 2010 captured the imagination of many.

It spread like wildfire in iPhones, Blackberries and whatever android gadgets young Arab professionals in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Syria.

Aside from that iconic photo of self-immolation, what were shared in Facebook and Twitter were photos of defiance; of mothers, fathers crying in defiance over the death of their sons and daughters; of young people killed by state security force’s sniper fire as they marched in protest for social change.

In our small town, what sprang in social media were harsh words; that after some time, there seemed to be a shortage of modifiers to describe the small town tyrant. There were gross and distasteful posting of photos of bloated human bodies, but these do not depict struggle. It only depicted the impact of a human-induced disaster.

A few who braved out of their comfort zones produced 38,000 signatures for a recall drive that has now become moot. Many called for street action; few came. I have not expected street action after Sendong though, for we cannot expect people who are forced to their bare humanity by the floods to immediately rise up and fight for social change.

It is human nature to seek first the basic needs and then the comfort for the sufferings and then the struggle to move on.

What happened in the Arab Spring was a social volcano erupting after decades of authoritarianism. What happened in our small town was Mother Nature snapping at our community for decades of neglect to the environment and bad governance.

The Arabs were forced out of their shell because of their severe thirst for justice. Our small town was deluged by Mother Nature into submission for sins of omission.

Maybe, a hundred days hence, people will start to stand up and work for the change we urgently need.

Let’s not expect street fights to be the main feature of this struggle. There may be some action to dramatize the urgency of the need for change, but that may not be decisive factor.

We still do have a working, albeit cranky democracy. The periodic renewal of the social contract between the sovereign people and their delegated state agents is just around the corner.

I have said it before and I will say it again; the struggle for change, for transparent and accountable city governance may have to redound to the vote.

Among the things this so called Cagayan de Oro Spring netizens need to realize though is that in a backward democratic system like ours where majority are still poor, elections are not decided by the middle class.

Truth of the matter is that in a backward democratic system, where the mode of election is still patronage, transactional and still has all the trappings of guns, gold and goons, the sector that holds the bulk of votes also are prone to put their votes in the market as bulk commodities.

For change to come in the city, even the perception of elitism in the movements now calling for good, accountable and transparent governance is definitely bad.

The rantings on Facebook, according to a former colleague in the Crusader publication in Xavier University who is now a successful business executive, should transcend the “kantiyaw” of those XU “bench” and “fishpond” regulars.

Talk is cliché. We may have to walk the dirty talk, without necessarily getting dirty ourselves.

This movement has to also understand by heart who is the Kagayanon and where are they now if it has to seriously take the small town tyrant by the horn.

It doesn’t help for some elitists, who to start with are sporting Castilian and Manchurian sounding surnames, to even attempt a claim of exclusivity to being called Lumads of Cagayan de Oro.

For change to come in the city, genuine leadership should now emerge and fill the vacuum.

Let’s not forget though that in removing a small town tyrant, we do not replace him with another ‘wannabe.’ (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. BenCyrus G. Ellorin is a journalist and environmentalist. He is a Fellow of the green policy think tank Ecological Sustainable Institute. Comments can be sent to [email protected])

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